After surviving a heart transplant and then cancer, 9-year-old Cashlin is back on the baseball field. See how teamwork made a difference in his care.

Child Health | 5 years ago

Teaming Up to Help Cashlin Beat Cancer

After surviving a heart transplant and then cancer, 9-year-old Cashlin is back on the baseball field. See how teamwork made a difference in his care.

As a baseball player, Cashlin Izzard knows a lot about teamwork. And last year, the 9-year-old saw teamwork in action off the field, at Levine Children’s Hospital.

Cashlin’s mom, Yameika, knew something was wrong when her son started complaining about side pain. He also had abdominal swelling, a fever and had lost some weight. While those are concerning symptoms for anyone, they were especially concerning for Cashlin, who had a heart transplant when he was 2 years old. “I went ahead and said, Let’s go to the doctor – let’s see what’s going on,” says Yameika.

Given Cashlin’s history, Gonzalo Wallis, MD, a cardiologist at Levine Children’s, knew the combined symptoms could only mean one of two things: an active infection – or cancer. He brought in Javier Oesterheld, MD, an oncologist at Levine Children’s, and together they diagnosed Cashlin with posttransplant lymphoproliferative disease.

PTLD is a rare and serious cancer that can affect transplant patients, and Cashlin’s case was especially severe. “I’m really going to lose him this time,” Yameika recalls thinking when she heard the diagnosis.

But Cashlin’s doctors at Levine Children’s weren’t giving up without a fight – plus some out-of-the-box thinking and a lot of teamwork.

Teamed up with the best

Conventional treatments that work for most patients with PTLD, like medications and chemotherapy, weren’t working for Cashlin. As the little boy faced complication after complication, Dr. Wallis and Dr. Oesterheld called on all the right players to join his care team. “For Cashlin, it took a village for us to get him from super sick to playing baseball again,” says Dr. Oesterheld.

When Cashlin’s kidney started to fail him, Donald "Jack" Weaver, MD, PhD, and his Levine Children’s nephrology team were on deck. When the child’s skin sloughed off, wound care went to bat. And when he started having hallucinations, neurology hit the ground running. “Cashlin went through the worst of it – from diagnosis to complications – but he received all the care he needed in one place,” says Dr. Wallis.

Together with all his specialists and his family, plus pharmacists, pathologists and others, Cashlin’s care team knew they needed a new game plan, and fast. His doctors decided to use a newly-approved cancer treatment drug, brentuximab, a treatment that would be as unique as his condition. And Cashlin would be LCH’s first-ever patient to receive it.

After months of uncertainty, Cashlin made a breakthrough – the treatment worked. And through it all, he had the support of a full care team, including Dr. Oesterheld, who treated his cancer; Dr. Weaver, who made sure his kidney was healthy; and Dr. Wallis, who helped keep his heart stable.     

“This is world-class medical care,” says Dr. Wallis. “Not in one specialty or two, but in every specialty your child might need, without being moved anywhere.”

Back in the swing of things

Now that he’s in remission, Cashlin is getting back in the swing of things. In addition to being cancer-free, his heart is as strong as ever. “You’d never know he went through heart disease, a transplant or cancer. Cashlin is a champion,” says Dr. Wallis.

Cashlin is enjoying life as a healthy kid again and is spending more time outdoors than ever. Most importantly, he’s back on the baseball field, doing what he loves most.

“With everything that’s happened to Cashlin, you’d think there’d be certain things he won’t do. But no, he’s a go-getter,” says Yameika.

Whatever’s next for Cashlin – on the field or off – one thing is certain: His Levine Children’s team is cheering for him every step of the way.